Ten years ago, I lost my Mum. I want to share some thoughts and two pictures inspired by her.
(You can hear me reading this on https://yourlisten.com/BetweenTheStools)
This was painted on the first anniversary of her death – it’s called
“Ascent of the Duzzy Heron”.
The heron had elicited two strong but opposing reactions from our family. Granddad saw it as a fish taker. He referred to it as “duzzy” – a local gentle expletive, since, as evangelicals, we can’t say fuckin’. (Yes, I know…Would Jesus like to hear me say that?)
For Granddad, then, the bird was a menace.
But for Mum, it was a source of joy. Mum would watch this heron, often from the window, and await the moment when the slim leggy bird spread its vast wings. Its whole presence expanded and it truly was a magnificent – but elusive and fleeting – sight. She would often call us over as the unfurling began, but I always missed the show. The heron was a wide eyebrow shaped mark in the air, rapidly disappearing, by the time I viewed it.
On the day of Mum’s funeral, I returned home alone and I saw, for the first time, the heron as it rose with the grace and span of Isaiah’s eagles and flew up into the heavens.
And I felt it was a sign of Mum, and so involuntarily, I saluted it.
It was thus a natural focus for an anniversary painting. The heron, more iridescent silver than grey, represented Mum, rising from the murky waters of her illness – a subject much in our collective minds at present; the green is the trees behind, although this is also about growth and new life; and blue, her favourite colour, and white flecked with light, symbolises her new celestial home. For she and I absolutely believe in paradise, and the transcendence over death however it comes for us.
In the heron’s beak is a green pastille.
It may seem unremarkable that I ate one that day. But I was 15 before I tasted one; and for the last eighteen months of Mum’s life, all greens had to be handed over to my mother with a partiality for the little sugary round Rowntree sweets.
In church as children, during long sermons, Mum opened the silvery wrapper and passed it along to us in the pew, but the green ones were extracted before being proffered. Green ones were snatched by right until we earned and were able to buy our own confectionary and eat them away from Mum’s eyes.
In my teens, there was a deliciousness in discovery of a rather nice hitherto unchewed flavour. I hadn’t minded giving over the again green pastilles when Mum got ill – it was affection as much as deference, a willing sacrifice.
On the bedside table, beside a stripped mattress that once carried our matriarch, was a single green pastille.
And, like Eve, I did take and ate it. (She’d have hated that wrongful grammar).
It felt deliberate, like an invitation to take the red pill of The Matrix, to step into life’s fullness – a final gift, as if the woman who bore me gave me life a second time.
The other painting is called “She Is Our Clothing”. It comes from a quote from Mother Julian’s’ Revelation of Divine Love. Julian wrote “He is our clothing”, but her constant reference to God as Mother – which I have long believed – made this a natural title choice. Mum died close to the anniversary of Julian’s visions, which is celebrated in my city, where Julian lived. I had kept both something Mum bought me and something she wore, and I used them in this artwork. The navy shirt – Mum’s favourite colour and one she was glad to see on our backs as well as her own – got ripped in place that Jesus was torn. Across the painting, the arms of this smock and those of a hoodie of Mum’s are wrapped, enfolding us. The painting itself has imagery from Julian’s medieval book: the hazelnut, the soul as a city – naturally, I’ve drawn this one – are in the Vesica Pisces shape often seen in medieval seals, but this has another, ahem, relevant thought to the title of the piece. Around it is He is Our Ground, The Purse!! (Julian said it, I painted it!), Knitting, and further maternal imagery that is currently covered up! (one for another sermon – Mum wouldn’t have liked that any more than my duzzy translation). There is also the Devil and flames which Julian was taught not to fear, as they are already overcome by our Lord. And that as the hazelnut tells us – everything that is made, is held by God.
In my own life and the collective life of the world, I felt need of being reminded of God’s nurturing, sustenance, love, and power over all; that his arms enfold us, as a Mum, as I remember and celebrate the life of mine. Yes, I’m eating green pastilles in her memory.
I have seven of them lined up to eat ceremonially at the moment of her passing.